In 2011, Jim Goguen, owner of Jim’s Auto Installations & Detailing Center in Ipswich, MA contacted me about helping him and a dozen more detailers from around the country get some publicity for a prestigious project detailing the original Air Force One presidential jet at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.
A couple of years earlier, someone inside the Bush administration recommended Renny Doyle of Detailing Success as someone highly qualified for the restoration and preservation project. Jim was a member of what would become known as the Air Force One Detailing Team.
I had backed into the automotive appearance business while working a corporate marketing job at a window film manufacturer. I bought advertising in a publication for our automotive window film division. I was invited to write articles and cover stories for a detailing and a mobile tech industry trade magazine.
I had featured Jim in a cover story about his detailing business a couple of years before, and in that story, he talked about the AFO project he had worked on with Doyle.
I have a steep news background, having worked in the newsroom at a couple of television stations including WPLG, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Not to date myself, but there was no internet during those years. News came down the ‘wire,’ the wire being a big… and loud… teletype machine that spit out reams of dot matrix style paper with stories coming in from the Associated Press and Reuters. You ripped it off and gave it to the producers to write scripts for the live news.
I mostly worked out on the floor, behind the cameras doing news, but we all spent a lot of downtime in the newsroom where I learned how news got disseminated in a Top 10 news market. I learned how stories were assigned and how the producers determined what was a worthy news story and what was not.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that knowledge would serve me well.
Honestly, I had only recently started my business, KimberlyWritesCreative LLC and I was mostly doing straight editorial for several local publications, newsletters, and copywriting, but I was open to what people needed in terms of content.
I had written many PRs in various industries, but I had not pursued that lane of marketing for my business because sending a PR down the national PRWire or Businesswire is very expensive and a big out-of-pocket expense for a start-up. Even a regional drop was over $1,000, and I had to mark that up to make even a very small profit.
I did not buy lists or download software because it was a waste of time. Most databases are outdated as soon as you buy them, and I had done enough national PR to know the return on investment and stats on the pick-up rates were terrible.
But this opportunity gave me an idea.
Get Ready to Get Noticed
There were only 10 guys the first year I worked with the Air Force One Detailing Team. I started building my own media databases for each city where they lived, compiling e-mail contacts manually to ensure I was not sending to people who would just throw it out. I targeted editors who make story assignments.
I wasn’t sure what the response would be or if there would be any response at all, but I knew exactly who inside a TV station or newspaper newsroom to get it to and how to tease it in a way that makes them want to either run the story or contact the business for more information.
That year, 10 of the 12 team members did PRs. All 10, including Jim in Boston, got picked up. One of the detailers was located in Tennessee and within a couple of days, that detailer called me elated.
He had received responses to the release from three local television stations and two newspapers. As a result of those five media hits, he had people coming up to him at the bank, the grocery store, and at a gas station, all pointing at him and saying, “I saw you on TV last night!”
He felt like a celebrity. He had never been on the news, never thought about being on the news, and didn’t really expect much when we sent the PR to the news.
One of the two detailers who did not bite on the opportunity confided in me after the project was finished that he did not go my PR route because his wife’s sister lived down the street from an anchor on one of the local channels. He let his wife’s sister’s neighbor tell the anchor about the project.
He got nothing. Zip. Nada.
What Should You Include?
The press release teases a newsworthy event. It can be a grand opening, an anniversary, a special event, a new certification, a new location, professional recognitions and awards, participation in tradeshows, community involvement, sponsorships, new exclusive products or services, technology and much, much more.
The press release gives the media the who, what, where, and why. It is the reporter who should seek out the how.
Many detailers make the mistake of posting to social media, thinking it is the ‘modern way’ of doing things, but unless you are friends with someone in the media, getting them to see it is hit and miss, and almost every time I have had a detailer post to social media without or before sending out the PR, there has been incorrect information in the resulting story, if they get a story at all.
Media people use social media, but they do not use it as a source of news, and social media is not an alternative to sending a PR. It is a follow-up.
On the same note, press releases are not advertising. The information you put out there must be newsworthy to your community and its people. You cannot use them to promote a sale or push pricing and incentives unless it is tied to a newsworthy event.
I always tell my clients using PRs for the first time; if you are unsure, ask. The last thing I want to happen, especially if the client is new at using this clever, affordable, and underused marketing tool, is for them not to get results. Therefore, if I know your ‘news’ is not really news, I will tell you so. I’m sure others will do the same.
For the past seven years, I have been writing for local news outlets here in North Alabama, and I can tell you that 80 percent of the time, great business stories come to me through their press releases. I do not care whether they are a one-man, mom-and-pop shop or the local hospital or car dealership; no matter how connected you are to the community, it is impossible to know everything in your market.
Many small business owners – not just detailers – believe PRs are only for national companies and big enterprise-size businesses.
Local media, including print publications, are looking for good stories to tell, and they are there to support economic development, so don’t be afraid to put it out there. It will make you look more businesslike, bigger, smarter, and more knowledgeable about your field if you send out PRs when you have news.
Over the years, I have built thousands of media lists in thousands of markets, and I keep them updated in real-time. I have branched out to include industry trade publications like Auto Laundry News, associations like the International Detailing Association, Chambers of Commerce (if you are a member and, in most markets, you should be!), and even car clubs that have newsletters.
For small businesses of any kind, PR is the most effective way to present yourself to the local media as a subject matter expert. The media is more likely to cover you and your business if you have been sending them noteworthy PRs.
Why not give it a try?
Kimberly Ballard has been writing and doing PR for the automotive industry for more than 20 years, covering automotive detailing and a variety of mobile tech services. She can be reached via e-mail at Kimberly@kimberlywritescreative.com and on her website, www.KimberlyWritesCreative.com.